Community Forestry: An Explainer

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What is Community Forestry?

“At ClientEarth we believe communities are the best last chance to protect our forests.” – Brian Rohan, Head of Forests

Forests and trees make essential contributions to both people and the planet, providing clean air and water, conserving biodiversity and mitigating climate change but also strengthening livelihoods. However, forests are under threat. Without laws, regulations and legally protected indigenous and local communities, deforestation would wipe them and us out forever.

Community Forestry is the branch of forest management which actively promotes the rights of people living in the forest through participation in decision-making and equitable benefit sharing. Community forests increase the devolution of power to local people as they implement their own management plans and rules around the forest, tailored to the village’s needs. This gives people power and autonomy and means each community forest can be governed for the benefit of its members. When people are invested in, respected and reliant on something, they will nurture and protect it.

Most community forests are in low- and middle-income countries with strong deforestation pressures. When indigenous peoples and local communities have no or weak legal rights, their lives, home and families are at risk. At ClientEarth we do not ignore marginalised groups but protect and raise them up instead. Communities and their forests make an enormous contribution to mitigating climate change and we believe entrusting them with the sustainability of their land is the best long-term approach to protect forests.

Why are we dedicated to protecting forests?

  • Home to about 80% of life on earth
  • Trees and soil are the second largest carbon and pollution absorber in the world
  • One of the greatest barriers against land erosion, landslides, avalanches and flooding
  • Livelihood for more than 1.5 billion people across the world
  • Products from forests are in every part of our daily lives

Why are forest communities so important?

  • Communities hold customary rights on as much as 65% of the world’s land area
  • There are approximately 1.5 billion indigenous peoples and local communities in the world
  • Legally recognised community forests contain approximately 37.7 billion tons of absorbed carbon
  • Community investment contributes to economic development and poverty reduction, conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity, and reductions in carbon emissions from deforestation
  • Forest communities are able to protect their forests more effectively and less expensively than governments do
  • Indigenous people hold unique cultural identities and traditional knowledge rooted in forests

How does ClientEarth push for fruitful community forests?

There is no one size fits all for Community Forestry which is why the team works agily and empathetically. Here’s what some of ClientEarth’s work looks like across West and Central Africa:

  • Providing top-level guidance to decision-makers using successful Community Forestry experiences from other countries
  • Supporting national NGOs in designing what each Community Forestry law should look like and inputting into law reforms
  • Supporting the most vulnerable groups, particularly women and indigenous people to actively take part and benefit from their community forests
  • Supporting the communities to have fair and respectable conversations with big companies
  • Making sure the communities see the benefits and all agreements are upheld

What’s next for ClientEarth and Community Forestry?

The team are excited to be scoping out future ways to help our people and forests in South-East Asia and Brazil. Watch this space for more information.

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Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR